This story is by Katana Lemelin and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sam squirms, the corners of his lips tugging at his face. In the central square behind the beer barrels, he feels assured the shadows from the bonfire will hide is four-foot form. The only sign of him is the occasional glint of red as the fire reflects on his hair when he peeks around the barrels.
This is his first time attending the Harvest Festival.
Mother expects me to stay in bed, but not this year!
Adults putter around the square, a few stumbling on the cobbles as they belch or sing off-tune to their own inner music. Sam isn’t interested in them, only the singing minstrels. There’s supposed to be a Sin, a woman with the voice of a Siren, with them this year.
And I am going to see her! Sam wiggles in his hiding spot.
Sam wonders why the adults are so knackered up about having a Sin among them. The Siren he sees is like any other woman, prettier than the calloused village women for sure. Yet, she’s required to stay in sight of the flames at all times.
Sam stays hidden, only ducking occasionally to hide from a drunken passerby. Silently he taps to the melodic music, barely hearing the accompanying pipers, or harpist. His ears are so tuned to the woman’s voice, he nearly steps out from his hiding spot a few times.
All too soon the music ends, and Sam is trailing along behind the departure party. The Sin must be escorted from the village with a flame lit by the Sacred Harvest Light. Sam doesn’t understand how the flame works, only that it reveals the woman as a Sin. A red-headed demon, only Sam still can’t see her as a demon. She’s been sending secret smiles towards him, and wondrous winks never once giving away his spot in the grassy fields bordering the road; although, his giggles have nearly given himself away.
The meager light from the torches fades, and Sam looks up, and up into the face of a man.
I’ve never seen a man who is beautiful.
The men of the village are hardened and crinkly, sunburned, split-lipped, and missing at least 3 teeth apiece. This man is a vision to Sam with his straight nose, white teeth, and sun-kissed freckled skin.
Sam knows he should run, but he isn’t perturbed. They stare at each other, heads titled, observing. The more Sam stares at him, the less like a demon he appears.
No devil would limp, with sweaty palms, and rushing breath probably from a fast retreat. The villagers would be none-to-happy about a stranger in their midst.
A hand lands on his shoulder.
It’s grizzled and leathery like the shovel scoop I picked up once to help in the field. The villagers really didn’t like that…
The hand guides his shoulder toward the village, but Sam’s head is as an owl’s. Impossibly tilted at the man, who’s now grinning at him. The man makes bizarre and ugly faces forcing giggles from Sam’s tiny chest. Sam knew he could trust him.
The stranger is pushing Sam past the first house towards the village square when Dirk the butcher’s boy catches sight and strides over.
“Hail Stranger! Step into the light, and you may join us in our revelries!” Sam blinks up at Dirk, taking in his flushed face and glassy eyes.
“Nay, I thank ye for the invitation, but I was just escorting this wee one back and I’ll be on my way,” he says with an accent Sam has never heard.
Sam inches closer to the stranger, much preferring his laughter to Dirk’s beefy hands.
Dirk’s uplifted smile snatches into a scowl. “I said step into the light stranger,” and snake-like he strikes all but tossing the larger man into the light. The man’s walnut hair transforms into a flaming fire.
“Thought you could hide, demon.” Dirk’s face has twisted into one Sam is all too familiar with. The one he wears when he’s cornered Sam when the adults aren’t watching. Dirk strong arm’s the man into the village square, ignoring Sam. Dirk knows he will have plenty of time later to “remind” Sam why he shouldn’t be out of bed.
While Dirk is screeching for the headman, Sam ducks and weaves between legs, shadows, and carts till he’s behind a crate. He watches with huge eyes as his friends and neighbors verbally assault the kind man. Sam doesn’t dare step out.
“We let these “minstrels” into our midst and we ask they abide by simple rules. To be visible at all times, and to leave when they are done. And what do I find, but this demon! Corrupting a child of OUR village.” Dirk has noticed Sam and points to him theatrically.
He always notices, Sam cringes back into the shadows.
No one recognizes Sam, it’s not too unusual for a child to sneak out to the bonfire after being tucked away, expected even, and so the standbyers continue to glue their visions to Dirk’s appealing speech. They never get this much excitement.
“We all know the penalty for a Sin, to come skulking into our village!” A fire stirs in Dirk’s drunken eyes and Sam can see tiny flames there.
This whole time the kind stranger has said nothing, not even to defend himself. Stone-faced he continues to stare at the crowd.
Dirk looks to the grizzled, graying man beside him for approval and receives a single nod. Yes.
By now the crowd of villagers is nearly stampeding in excitement. The yearly bonfire, minstrels and a beheading. This will be the talk of the countryside for the next decade.
Sam looks to his neighbors, and friends before he spots his mam in the cheering crowd. Her head twists side to side, and she’s shoving elbows left and ride calling something he can’t hear. His little body shakes with a chill as he stares at her.
She’s looking for me. Mam!
Like a bursting dam, he sprints over to her no longer caring to stay hidden. A huge smile shines upon her face and Sam finds he can breathe again. If he can only stay in her arms everything will be fine. Only, her smile doesn’t last, her eyes flicker to the bonfire still roaring away and then to his little head. She dashes to meet him, skirts flying indecently. She uses them to shield him from the light as he latches to her leg, but it’s too late.
“What is this! A monster babe within our midst? Lisa dear, release the little demon!” Dirk calls out. Sam doesn’t realize Dirk is speaking about him until a familiar beefy hand is grabbing his neck and ripping him from his mother’s grasping hands.
The crowd is suddenly silent, stricken by this news. All but the stranger whose voice rings out, slicing the silence, “No, you have me, the boy is innocent!” He struggles and twists at the hands clutching his arms and shoulders.
Dirk dangles Sam by his neck completely ignoring the little hands prying at his own massive one. “So this is what you came for demon! Enticing an innocent village woman into your bed and then returning for the child!”
The villagers are unsure, but silently agree Dirk’s argument is sound.
“No, you knew his father! Jonathan was a farmer, like all of you! He died three years past,” Lisa gasps out. Her breaths shuddering, eyes never blinking as she watches her boy suffocate. The crowd is unmoved.
“My name is Bastion, and may you rue this day!” the Sin calls out. Seeing an opportunity he elbows out of his captor’s hold and sprints into the darkness. Now standing on a roof he calls, “For I am a Sin of Wrath. I damn all of you for watching this boy die and doing nothing.”
And his words were true, Dirk looks to Sam and shakes him roughly. Sam’s body limply swings in his grasp before thudding to the ground. Dirk’s eyes stay on the small crumpled heap as he quickly hops back.
“I didn’t…I mean uh…”
A final call from Bastion is heard, but the villagers can no longer see him. “Who’s the Sin now.”